I propose a new clinical entity in abnormal psychology: Precocious Adulthood Syndrome (PrAS) or adultification in people who were forced into adult roles in their childhood or adolescence.
It is brought on (etiology) via three vectors: chronic illness (including mental illness) of either the parent or the child; sexual abuse; and parentifying or instrumentalizing the child.
Parentifying (better said: adultifying) is when a child is coerced by caregivers into assuming adult, developmentally inappropriate roles as: a surrogate parent to his siblings, a referee between his parents, or a caregiver for a mentally or physically disabled parent.
The child emulates his parents and their mental issues as it assumes parental roles.
Very often the parents of parentified children are, in Andre Green’s term, “Dead Mothers”: absent, depressed, self-centred, dysempathic, capricious, dangerous, instrumentalizing, or abusive.
The child is, therefore, forced to parent itself by internalizing his parents’ disorders, dysfunctional attachment styles, and trauma bonding. As adults, they regulate their sense of self-worth by caring for others.
Later in life, PrAs leads to compensatory infantilism (“Peter Pan Syndrome”) coupled with an impostor syndrome.
Some of the studies that were evaluated as part of a systematic review of 62 studies published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine in December 2019 suggested that up to 82% of individuals may experience impostor-type feelings. But there is another reaction to PrAS, another coping strategy:
Adultified children grow up feeling responsible for everyone around them. They are incapable of having fun, never have had a childhood.
Adultified children become control freaks, are self-reliant, trust no one, and always get involved in conflicts as arbiters or peacemakers.
They feel the need to be “good, worthy, trustworthy, and reliable” even at the expense of their own needs (they are self-sacrificial).
They always feel either that their efforts are not appreciated – or that they should do more.
Consequently, some of them end up being passive-aggressive (negativistic) or even covert narcissists and “empaths”.
Adultified children resemble Borderlines in that they engage in compensatory behaviors that are not calibrated and proportionate: reckless promiscuity and substance abuse, for examples.
Some of them end up being codependent, people-pleasers, and highly sensitive people (HSPs).
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